How the Smartphone Has Changed Travel For Me

I was asked this in a comment yesterday: “Do I really need an iPhone to get about?  What happened to maps?”

I like to use a paper map to orientate me in a city and to get a better idea of where things are in relation to each other. If I’m just going from point A to B, I’ll also use it to navigate. Provided the city has adequate street signage, which so many of them do not.

To me, the question of whether you really need a smartphone to travel nowadays is akin to asking an explorer of old if he needs an astrolabe or a sextant. No, not strictly speaking. But it sure makes it easier to get around.

Your paper map won’t tell you where you are in an instant.

It doesn’t know the most pedestrian friendly route or the location of the nearest no-fee ATM.

It can’t let you do a quick search on the cheap sushi place to learn it has a mouse problem.

Unless it’s specifically for public transit, it very likely won’t be able to get you to the nearest bus stop for your route and tell you how quickly to expect the next bus.

The paper map will disintegrate in rain (like mine did on Friday — it was so damp out that even when under cover, the map was getting soaked).

Glancing at your smartphone is way more discrete and something locals do, which can be safer than standing on a corner with a giant map, branding yourself as a tourist.

A paper map also won’t give you access to your bank accounts if you need to move money around in a hurry, a calculator to do a quick currency conversion, or access to your invoicing system when you’re off on what is technically a work day and a client emails you with a question (your map also can’t get your emails).

I could go on and and on about the relevance of a smartphone. I travelled before they existed and having one is so much better than not having one. If you’re someone whose idea of travel is to take taxis between locations with very little walking around, then a paper map is likely still enough. But I cover a lot of ground on foot and I’d much rather have a little voice in my ear telling me turn here or there so that I can focus on discovering the city I’m visiting than to wander around with my nose buried in a map.

That said, I’d take my GPS over any smartphone maps and I’m still rather kicking myself for not finding room for mine!

12 thoughts on “How the Smartphone Has Changed Travel For Me

  1. Thank you for addressing this. Do you have, then, and unlimited data plan, so you’re able to do all that while out and about and not connected to WiFi? I am just learning my new smartphone and yet have no idea how to do these things – the nearest no-fee ATM would be a god send.

    I always learn so much from you and am most grateful when you take time to post about particulars such as this. Thank you!

    • Barbara, I buy a SIM card wherever I am if I’m going to be there for more than a few days. Otherwise, I rely on WiFi. I should specify about the ATM — I know which bank I’m looking for and ask for it specifically. 🙂

      Thank you for your positive review of this post. Glad you got something out of it!

  2. My husband had never used my iPhone when he took it to the UK last fall.

    He had a ‘crash course’ over there using the iPhone for getting around (he did a lot of walking) ,finding services, phoning cabs, phoning relatives, using Skype to keep in touch back here, as well we were able to phone with the calls connecting instantly.

  3. Thank you for sharing your adventures, especially those of us who are unable to travel! I’ve had great success using the WAZE app. I don’t know if I works in Europe.

  4. Just a quick not on the maps. We have been using the app offline and it hasn’t lead us astray yet. Also there is an app called moovit that has every major cities transportation route in it. We found out about this from on of our hosts in Romania, and have found it very useful.


    • Thanks! That’s two recs for! I didn’t check it out in Manchester since I was on my own bandwidth, but I’ll be downloading it here. Hadn’t heard of Moovit either and it sounds great.

      • Something else that you might like to check out for transportation that is very popular in Europe is a ride sharing site. We used it once in Romania to go from Brasov to Sibiu, it was faster than taking a bus and slightly cheaper and worked out well. We wouldn’t hesitate to use it again.

        • Oh, I know that one! I was considering using it to go from Almería to Málaga, but I couldn’t find anyone to fit my dates.

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